The West Virginia Mountaineers men's basketball team is about to start one of its most difficult stretches of the 2015-16 season, and it will reportedly be short-handed.
According to Raphielle Johnson of College Basketball Talk, West Virginia suspended senior forward Jonathan Holton indefinitely for violating team rules Thursday.
Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail said Holton is expected to miss West Virginia’s showdown with the Florida Gators on Saturday and the following two contests, a road matchup against the No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones and a home contest against the No. 17 Baylor Bears.
After that three-game stretch, the Mountaineers will face the No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse.
West Virginia likely couldn’t have picked a worse regular-season stretch to lose depth, especially since the 6’7” Holton is a critical piece of the team’s famed press defense. He brings impressive athleticism and size, which helps him stay in front of ball-handlers and challenge shots at the rim.
He is averaging 9.7 points, 7.5 rebounds (second on the team) and 1.1 steals per game and tallied two double-doubles in his previous three contests.
West Virginia is No. 9 in the country and a legitimate threat to take home the Big 12 title. As of Thursday, the Mountaineers were tied with Oklahoma and Baylor at 6-2 in the Big 12 and ahead of the 11-time defending conference champion Jayhawks (5-3). West Virginia has already defeated Kansas once this season in a game during which Holton grabbed eight rebounds.
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, they have pieces such as Devin Williams and Elijah Macon to fill the void in the frontcourt while Holton is out. Williams is the second-leading scorer (13.1 points per night) and leading rebounder (8.2 boards a night) on the team, while Macon is the squad’s third-leading rebounder.
Ideally for West Virginia, Holton will return in time for a late-season run and the conference and NCAA tournaments, but it will sorely miss him during a challenging stretch of games that could determine its fate in the Big 12 race.